Philippine President Corazon Aquino returned to Manila from a much acclaimed first official U.S. visit to marching bands, flag-waving euphoria and ticker tape parades.
But the president, visibly exhausted after her nine-day trip that included talks with President Reagan, and speeches to the U.S. Congress and the United Nations, was immediately thrown back into the deep end of Filipino politics.At a Cabinet meeting only hours after her return, Armed Forces Chief of Staff Chief General Fidel Ramos submitted a report on the growing effectiveness of the communist New People's Army attacks on officials and the military. Mrs. Aquino has launched cease-fire talks with the insurgents, who have shown no signs of leading to a break in the 17 year-old guerilla war.
Last week in her absence, General Ramos told the National Security Council how the fatality ratio of rebels to soldiers has deteriorated from 2- to-1 in favor of the armed forces to 1-to-1.
On the eve of the departure for the United States 10 days ago, Vice President Salvador Laurel also told reporters he was dissatisfied with the soft-line approach toward dealing with the insurgency. During her U.S. trip, Mrs. Aquino insisted to Mr. Reagan, the defense establishment and hawks in Congress that only by exhausting all peaceful channels to peace would she be morally justified in launching an all-out assault on the guerillas.
Although U.S. Defense Secretary Casper Weinberger told her he "completely supported her policy," Mr. Reagan warned her during a working lunch last week ''not to trust the communists," a White House spokesman said.
Mrs. Aquino also faces growing pressure from her vociferous Minister of Defense Juan Ponce Enrile, who has consistently attacked her for failing to give the armed forces carte blanche in dealing with the NPA. While some of Mr. Enrile's statements have been political posturing, which many observers say are geared to boosting his own presidential fortunes, there is undoubtedly unrest in the ranks of the army.
Career soldiers who led the military revolt with General Ramos and Mr. Enrile that ousted Ferdinand Marcos last February are now among the strongest of Mrs. Aquino's critics. Believing cease-fire talks to be playing into the rebels' hands, they want a concerted military attack on guerilla strongholds. This should be backed up by a social and economic program that will ensure that the rebels have jobs or land to return to if they surrender, they say.
Mr. Enrile's is the loudest voice within the Cabinet calling for a
revision of the president's insurgency policy. However, at least two other ministers, including her close ally in the February elections, Minister of Natural Resources Ernesto Maceda, have joined in the criticism. In addition, her more strident critics are using the insurgency issue to cast doubts on the president's ability to give national leadership.
Mr. Enrile, though not directly backing this challenge to her leadership, is among those calling on Mrs. Aquino to run for re-election in order to legitimize her position.
On her return, Mrs. Aquino seemed to rule out presidential elections next year but this pressure is unlikely to go away. Her opponents are now claiming, with some justification, that support for her outside her Manila stronghold is not as great as she would like to believe.